US slams Israeli defense minister attack on Kerry

A senior US official on Tuesday urged Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to publicly disavow a complaint by Israel's defense minister that John Kerry has a messianic "obsession" with Middle East peace.

The official made the highly unusual demand as fresh tension erupted between the governments of President Barack Obama and of Netanyahu after the minister, Moshe Yaalon, was quoted as branding the US secretary of state, who has made 10 trips to Israel since March, a nuisance.

"We expect the prime minister to put this right by expressing publicly his disagreement with the statements against Secretary Kerry, the negotiations with the Palestinians and Kerry's commitment to Israel's security," a senior State Department official told AFP.

Yaalon's remarks were also condemned by Kerry's spokeswoman and then in an apparently coordinated rebuttal to Israel, taken up by the White House.

"The remarks of the Israeli defense minister, if accurate, are offensive and inappropriate, especially in light of everything that the United States is doing to support Israel's security needs," said White House spokesman Jay Carney.

"Secretary Kerry and his team have been working nonstop in their efforts to promote a secure peace for Israel because of the deep concern the United States has and the deep commitment the United States has for and to Israel's future and the Israeli people."

"To question Secretary Kerry's motives and distort his proposals is not something we would expect from the defense minister of a close ally."

Israel's top-selling newspaper Yediot Aharonot quoted Yaalon as expressing the hope that Kerry would end his peace push and focus his energies elsewhere.

"The American plan for security arrangements that was shown to us isn't worth the paper it was written on," Yaalon was quoted as saying in private conversations with Israeli officials, accusing Kerry of being naive.

State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki, using similar language to Carney, registered dismay at the comments, considering Kerry had been working "day and night to try to promote a secure peace for Israel because of the secretary's deep concern for Israel's future."

Kerry coaxed Israelis and Palestinians back into direct negotiations last summer and has since shuttled tirelessly between the two leaderships in a bid to keep the talks alive, with an April deadline looming.

"Secretary of State John Kerry -- who arrived here determined, and who operates from an incomprehensible obsession and a sense of messianism -- can't teach me anything about the conflict with the Palestinians," Yaalon was quoted as saying.

"The only thing that might save us is if John Kerry wins the Nobel Prize and leaves us be."

Yaalon stopped short of apologizing for the remarks in a statement released by his office later Tuesday. "The United States are our most important friends and allies. When there are disagreements between us, we discuss them in private," it said.

But it added: "I will continue to be responsible and firmly maintain the security of the Israeli people."